The purpose of a Pap smear is to detect abnormal cells that could have the potential to develop into cervical cancer. Approximately 250,000 women die each year worldwide from cervical cancer. It is one of the most preventable and curable of all cancers. Most women who die from the disease have never had a Pap smear or not had one within the recommended two-yearly intervals.
If your Pap smear has an abnormal result further tests can be performed to diagnose and treat the abnormality. Abnormal test results do not necessarily mean that you have cancer – they can often be caused by inflammation or infection. Risk factors for developing cervical cancer include the presence of some types of the human papilloma virus (HPV) on the cervix and smoking. HPV is quite a common viral infection that can cause skin warts and can affect the genital tract in both men and women. There are many types of HPV and most of them are not cancer producing.
Often there are no symptoms in the early stages of cervical cancer therefore the only way to know if you have abnormal cells is to have a Pap smear.